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Monday, December 24, 2012
On the Eve of Christmas: Traditions in an Irish family
The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas Eve is still done in Ireland today. It has a number of purposes, but stands principally as a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they travelled looking for shelter. During Penal Times, the lighted candle signalled to priests a safe place in which they might celebrate the Catholic mass. Tradition holds that the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household, and if possible be extinguished by a girl who bears the name Mary.
In some Irish households, after the evening meal on Christmas Eve, the table is again set and on it is placed a loaf of soda bread made with caraway seeds and raisins, along with a pitcher of milk and a large lit candle. Although done less often in urban centres, in some homes in the countryside, the door to the house is left unlatched so that Mary and Joseph, or any wandering traveler, might benefit from the welcome.
It is said that the placing of a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland. Since holly is one of the main plants to flourish at Christmas time, the proliferation of holly edging farmer's fields gave the poor the means with which to decorate their homes.
After Christmas has come and gone in Ireland, decorations are traditionally taken down on Old Christmas Day, the feast of the Epiphany. It is considered to be bad luck to take them down either before or after that day.
Enjoy your traditions while the time is nigh, and on the eve of this Christmas,
'Nollaig Shona Dhuit', Happy Christmas to You!